In the past couple of weeks there has been an increase in the number of media reports about sugar and its negative impact on our health, and more specifically, weight.
There have also been calls to stop drinking all soft drinks completely at mealtimes. A “group of nutritional experts” has said that children should only drink water at meals. This is good advice – we believe that everybody should certainly mostly drink water. Soft drinks used to be a rare luxury, now they are consumed, well, like water.
Black and white
Of course, diet is not really as black and white as this sugar versus fat advice. Because although some people are now saying “eat less sugar” there are still many health experts reminding us that foods that contain a lot of saturated fat tend to be bad for us.
Although saturated fat may not be bad (according to the latest science), it is usually consumed in foods such as cookies, cakes, pastries, pies, sausages and other processed meats, red meat, fried chicken and pizzas, which are all associated with health issues.
The problem may simply be that eating these foods generally means too many total calories and not enough healthy foods that provide essential vitamins and minerals (i.e. vegetables and fruits). The role of antioxidants and essential vitamins is often overlooked when people talk about the problem of high fat / high sugar diets. What we probably need is just more fruit and veg and less high energy food.
Currently the evidence does support that idea that trans-fats are linked with heart disease, and trans fats are often found in the same fatty foods that saturated fats are found.
We are really very fortunate today: we live in a society with a huge amount of scientific data at our finger tips and this tells us what is healthy and what is not. It should therefore be simple for us all to live healthy lives.
Research has pretty much shown that a balanced, low (normal) calorie diet is all that is needed for good health. Some sugar is fine, some fat is fine, some protein is fine. These three macro nutrients are what make up most of the food that we eat.
Why do we keep demonizing individual macro nutrients? There are many people saying that all forms of sugar are bad and we should only eat protein and fat.
If you think that this is an exaggeration of the truth, take a look at some of the more radical “primal” living websites. Some people advocate eating nothing but saturated fat and protein and claim that this will not only lead to permanent weight loss but also prevent diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Pure radical opinion replaces science and common sense and dieticians often squirm at the suggestion of feeding T2 diabetes patients with saturated fat. Saturated fat makes coronary conditions worse and adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke.
But can we blame such radicalism in the world of nutrition when the media are constantly telling us that all sugar and fat is bad?
Marketing is the problem
Of course, the real problem is marketing. Marketing is a key part of our “obesogenic environment”. People eat too much food, which happens to often be unhealthy junk, largely because of the aggressive marketing that food companies carry out.
The flip side is that companies that consider junk food to be the problem are also using highly skilled marketing professionals to promote their own idea of perfect nutrition.
Maybe the only way to combat obesity is for all public health departments to increase their marketing spending to match, or exceed, that of all those in the food / nutrition business. But like obesity, this will break the bank.
It really does seem that the only way we will ever combat obesity is through government intervention in the food and drink industry.
Until governments treat junk food and the marketing of junk food the same way as they treat tobacco and alcohol, obesity will continue threaten the health of our nations. In the few cases where policy makers stepped in to prevent the spread of fast food chains the impact was positive.
But, much of the economy is driven by the food and beverage industries. Food and drink accounts for 16 per cent of the UK’s total manufacturing sector and employs up to 400,000 people. The same will be seen in most other countries where obesity is a problem.
So we now live in a society where we know that:
- Obesity is getting worse
- Media says that sugar and fat are the problems
- Radical nutritionists say that all sugar is the problem
- Health pros are largely ignored because their advice is a bit boring ….
- Marketing companies continue to promote food at unhealthy levels
Intervention will not happen. We are doomed.
Some light reading
The Incidence of Congestive Heart Failure in Type 2 Diabetes
An update – 2004 study – http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/27/8/1879.long
London Stock Exchange: Food & beverage – http://www.lseg.com/resources/1000-companies-inspire-britain/food-beverages
Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease – http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2010/01/13/ajcn.2009.27725.short
Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis – 2014 study – http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1846638
Dietary fat and risk of coronary heart disease in men: cohort follow up study in the United States – 1996 study: http://www.bmj.com/content/313/7049/84